Beelzebub: lord of the fly. A heathen deity to whom the Jews ascribed supremacy among evil spirits. See also: Baal-Zebub, lord of the fly. An idol of the Philistines at Ekron. 

When I was a child, the Russians sent a chimpanzee into space, the first primate to leave gravity’s sphere. That event launched us into a race, an expensive competition to excel in leaving Mother Earth, the only known planet where humans can survive. Now we have rich people launching themselves for a joyride.

That Jeff Bezos was tone-deaf enough to thank the employees and customers who made him rich was a small affront, compared to the seven decades of American taxpayers whose funds were diverted into creating the technology that made his flight possible. Consider also all the businesses we now refer to as “brick and mortar” that have been left behind by his money-making enterprises, and the vacant shopping malls and downtown commercial districts with emptied buildings. Proving he could escape the devastation of his wealth-making was a temporary triumph, but I wonder how many people were secretly wishing the mission would fail?

By some kind of grace or serendipity, I began reading Wes Jackson this week for the first time. Wes Jackson is the writer/farmer/soil scientist who helped pioneer no-till agriculture through The Land Institute in Salina, Kansas. He’s also a biblically-informed faithful man who worries about the fate of humans on this fragile planet. His writing is infused with words and phrases I’ve learned in the earth-loving songs of John Pitney, the Methodist preacher who led me here. His sentences are clear, in prose most any English-speaking person would understand.

In Altars of Unhewn Stone: Science and the Earth (1987), I found a beautiful, two-page essay called “Pre-Copernican Minds of the Space Age.” In five decent-length paragraphs, he takes us through our human urges to reach toward heaven, from the Tower of Babel to our lifetimes’ space-age explorations of our universe. 

“Long after Copernicus straightened us out on the relationship of the earth to the heavenly bodies,” he starts, “we continued to think of earth as ‘below’ and of ‘heaven’ as above.” So many of us still do. Detailing the speeds we’d have to reach to leave our solar system—and probably can’t, given that “our entire solar system moves among the neighboring stars at a clip of over 400,000 miles an hour,”— Jackson suggests our chance of finding another planet with the atmosphere we’d need to survive is zero. Then he flatly states: “If we can’t live on another planet, except for brief periods, then our space program can have no value except as a mine to service an extractive economy.”

Which brings him to his real point: “We do live in the space age, but in the same manner as did Jefferson and Charlemagne, Jesus and Aristotle. We are in heaven now.” Then he quotes these three lines of poet Elizabeth Barret Browning: “Earth’s crammed with heaven, / And every common bush is afire with God; / But only he who sees takes off his shoes.”

Then he ends: “Ridding our minds of what we believed before Copernicus is long overdue. And maybe the real work of protecting and maintaining our beautiful craft cannot begin until, like Moses before the burning bush, we are moved to take off our shoes.”

Our man Jeff said he was changed when he came out of the cockpit (wearing a straw cowboy hat, no less). He didn’t say how he was changed, but I don’t imagine we’ll see him barefoot anytime soon. It’s probably the only change that would really help us, however.

Trudy Wischemann is an earth-bound writer who loves a star-filled night sky. You can send her your space- or earth-bound dreams c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247 or visit www.trudysnotesfromhome.blogspot.com and leave a comment there.

This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Sun-Gazette newspaper.

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